In a new series, we pit proponents and opponents against each other on some of the most divisive issues in New Zealand business.

The first edition sees a pair of contributors on opposite sides of the debate put forward their arguments on whether New Zealand should or shouldn't shut the door on foreign property buyers.

The new law proposes to make residential and lifestyle land 'sensitive', meaning foreigners would have to apply to the Overseas Investment Office to buy a house, flat or apartment in New Zealand. And it goes much further than Australia, which still allows foreigners to buy places as long as they build them.

So is the government going in the right or wrong direction?

Activist Murray Horton and Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend weigh in on the debate.


Murray Horton, Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA)

The Government deserves praise for tackling aspects of foreign control as a high priority as soon as it got into office. But that is only as it should be, because it is an extremely important issue and one which has ramifications across a whole raft of other issues.

Real estate agents are saying that the ban is two years too late, that such speculators bolted as soon as the law required that they show a minimal connection to this country, namely by having an IRD number and a local bank account number. But this proposed law change takes it a step further.

We're also pleased that the Government announced that as of December 2017, the rules around foreigners buying NZ farmland have been tightened up. Farmland remains integral to our economy and it's best kept in local hands.

Both these moves are clearly overdue. Still, it's better late than never.

That said, while we are pleased about the proposed ban on foreign speculators from buying houses, this is what our American friends would call nickel and dime stuff.

It is only part of the picture, involving foreign influence in the local market.

Land sales, although they get a lot of attention, only involve tens of millions of dollars.

The real guts of any modern economy - the high rollers' lounge of the capitalist casino - is the business sector. That's where the billion-dollar deals are done.

And we've heard nothing from the Government about what, if anything, it plans to do about the transnational corporations that so dominate the New Zealand economy, apart from the commendable, but comparatively minor, aim of trying to get them to pay their fair share of tax.

In proposing to tighten up the rules, we've made a step in the right direction, but there's still more to be done.

Connal Townsend, Property Council chief executive:

We have always supported restricting the sale of houses to overseas speculators, and we are very pleased the bill is addressing this. However, because of the way the Bill is currently written, there is a risk it could hinder the government's wider objective of enabling more houses to be built.

Large-scale residential developments require capital including foreign investment. There are very few New Zealand companies that have the capability to undertake large-scale residential developments and these companies require investment, including foreign capital. A significant proportion of these companies are deemed 'overseas persons' because of minority foreign shareholders, even when they are New Zealand based and controlled.

We have suggested some changes to the Bill to help achieve the balance between protecting New Zealand's interests and permitting desirable foreign investment, to help build more houses quickly and, at scale, while including the necessary community infrastructure to support these developments.

As currently proposed, the law would simply go too far.

We're not saying that foreign land ownership in New Zealand should be allowed to run rampant, but rather that regulations shouldn't be so restrictive that they stifle investment in property development.

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